The November 2013 study Mr Argent referred to was conducted by London Economics, a UK economic and policy consultancy firm, and commissioned by Philip Morris International, which sells branded cigarettes in 180 markets. London Economics surveyed Australian adults three times: between July and October 2012, before the new regulations began; in March 2013, three months after their full implementation; and in July 2013. The November report was “an interim assessment” of the firm’s analysis of the impact of plain packaging on smoking prevalence.
The study did not directly address the impact of plain packaging on potential new smokers, despite this being the government’s stated policy priority. It found that the largest group of tobacco consumers, those who smoke daily, fell from 20.4 per cent of the adult population before plain packs became mandatory to 19.5 per cent three months afterwards. The number of daily smokers then rose to 20 per cent in July 2013. Respondents who said they were weekly but not daily smokers initially fell, then returned to the pre-implementation level of 2.1 per cent. “Less than weekly” smoking fell from 2.3 per cent to 1.9 per cent and then rose to 2.2 per cent.
The study also found the number of people who claimed never to have smoked increased from 45.6 per cent in the second half of 2012 to 46.6 per cent in July 2013. Those numbers represent a reduction of 0.4 per cent in the number of Australian adults smoking daily and a 1 per cent increase in the number of adults who had never smoked (suggesting more of those turning 18 do not smoke). The report’s authors said that “from a statistical perspective, none of these changes were different from zero”.
They conclude that “over the timeframe of the analysis, the data does not demonstrate that there has been a change in smoking prevalence following the introduction of plain packaging and larger health warnings…” The second report Mr Argent referred to was a study of the sale of illicit tobacco in Australia. It was conducted by accounting firm KPMG and commissioned by Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris.
The report estimated that the overall level of tobacco consumption in Australia was 17.4 million kilograms in the year to June 2013, the same level as the year before. It said consumption of legal products fell from 15.3 million kilograms to 15.1, while consumption of illicit products increased correspondingly. The KPMG report did not evaluate the impact of the plain packaging reforms on consumption.
Imperial Tobacco, which produces cheap Davidoff cigarettes, recently argued against the introduction of plain packaging in Britain, stating “following the introduction of standardised packaging in Australia, smoking prevalence has not been affected”.
It cited the KPMG report’s finding that overall consumption had remained stable. However, Imperial Tobacco’s submission, dated January 10, urged the UK government to postpone deciding on plain packaging legislation because there was insufficient evidence about the impact of the Australian reforms. It noted that the latest national statistics from Australia covering smoking prevalence were for the end of 2012 and there had been no data or anecdotal evidence on youth smoking rates in Australia after 2011.
“We are not aware of any national statistics from Australia… covering the period since standardised packaging was mandated,” the submission said. “We consider this to be an essential requirement for a proper assessment of the policy’s impact.” The Australian Government was planning a review on the plain packaging measures in December 2014 “and we would expect other governments to wait until this review has been conducted before making any decisions,” it said.